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Tuesday, March 3, 2009


While school children around the City enjoyed a rare snow day yesterday, a New York Times story this morning reveals that a small group of third graders were not so lucky. Those eight-year-old students at Harlem Success Academy, one of Eva Moskowitz’s four charter schools, were informed by automated telephone messages that they were expected to show up for four hours of classes, from 10:00 to 2:00.

The reason? Those 50 children were the only ones in the school due to take State standardized exams tomorrow, as of course will third through fifth graders all over NYC. One child in the Times story is quoted enthusiastically about being able to "ace the exam.”

Maybe it's just me, but I find this story so disturbing on so many levels -- making third graders (and their teachers) go to school on a day when the rest of the city school children had a day off, just so they could prepare for a test. It’s not as though they were the only ones taking exams this week, but Ms. Moskowitz apparently decided that four more hours of test preparation was more important than letting those eight-year-olds enjoy the rare opportunity of a little free time playing in a heavy snowfall with their friends. Who does “education” like this really serve, the children? Or the adults like Ms. Moskowitz and Mr. Klein who benefit politically (and, as we recently learned thanks to Juan Gonzalez, quite substantially financially)?

Some of my most cherished childhood memories growing up in Indianapolis involved the thrill of waking up to snow days – sledding on any hill we could find, building snow forts, having snowball fights, and, yes, even shoveling a neighbor’s driveway for $5. I know Manhattan isn't Indianapolis, but still. Furthermore, I don't ever remember my school days being driven by the overwhelming desire to "ace" a standardized exam (other, perhaps, than the SAT, but we were 17 by then and knew the stakes in that exam were personal, directly affecting our future – and almost nobody thought in terms of “acing” that test).

Perhaps for these third graders, their future, less glowing memories will include the time all their friends stayed home and played while they alone studied for a State exam. I guess if it's test-acing little third grade robots you want, this is what you do to get them.


Anonymous said...

The writer's reminiscences of his childhood in Indianapolis reveals his naivete about what the average kid in Harlem is doing on a snow day. The large majority of kids that live in our city don't leave the house on snow days to frolick, but rather spend hours in front of the television. Take an informal poll of 3rd graders in this city - you'll be horrified by the amount and quality of television and movies kids are seeing.

And his issue with the boy gloating about acing the test? What parent wouldn't be happy to hear their kid embrace life with this confidence? How many middle class kids go to Kumon, Score! or receive private tutoring to help them ace the third grade test? Why fault Eva for providing kids in Harlem with the tools they'll need to compete with their middle class counterparts? Mr. Koss, you if you want to be outraged, don't point your finger at a woman working tirelessly to obliterate the achievement gap, but rather direct your outrage at the system that has failed generations of kids in NYC's poorest neighborhoods. In NYC less than half of black students graduate from high school in four years, and chances of success decrease if you are male. When these Harlem Success scholars graduate from college in the year 2022 I think they'll be thanking Eva Moskowitz, not holding on to some false notion of a lost childhood that some white guy had in Indiana in the 1960s.

Steve Koss said...

I admitted quite openly in my posting to recognizing that Indianapolis is not Harlem (although I'm sure kids of all races still enjoy snow days off from school in Indianapolis). And I'm sure I spent some of my snow day time watching television, too. I'm also rather disinclined to think that no "average kids" in Harlem who enjoyed the recent snow day didn't go out and play in the snow in some way, whether in Central Park, Morningside Park, Thomas Jefferson Park, or elsewhere.

My point was not about eliminating achievement gaps or being white (an assumption on the commenter's part, as well as being uncalled for) or anything other than singling out 50 or so children as the only ones in NYC to spend a snow day at school. And for what purpose? To learn? Or, as the evidence suggested, to prep for a test? Is that what eliminating the achievement gap means to you, Mr. (Ms.?) Anonymous? Doing better on a standardized test? Will those third graders look back on that snow day with thanks for a minute increase in their test score, or regret at being the only ones who had to go to school that day?

I've certainly nothing against reducing the achievement gap, but I have to question whether the test whose scores are being so aggressively pumped are really measuring either the gap or its reduction in achievement of anything other than a higher test score. Achievement out of education comes from rather a bit more than a multiple choice test score.

Steve Koss said...

Actually, let me make it simpler and clearer. My issue with this story is NOT that some children went to school on a snow day. It's WHY they were called in -- for the stated and apparently sole purpose of prepping for standardized exams.

Maybe (as I wrote) it's just me, but I found this disturbing and reflective of a misdirected educational philosophy.

Anonymous said...

WOW, looks like the hard work and grit paid off afterall. 95% of Harlem Success 3rd graders scored a 3 or 4 on the test effectively blowing away neighboring schools. This means 95% of them are meeting or exceeding the state standards. More impressive still, 23% of the kids scored a 4 placing them in the top 3% in the city.

I don't think the kids or their parents have any regrets about a missed snow day. If they did, they certainly won't when they graduate college in 2022.